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It was the night before college | Latest from Jen E. Smith

Here’s what I remember about my last night at home before I left for college: I was one of the last of my friends to go away. I watched Donnie Darko with my then-boyfriend. Afterwards he gave me a gift: a copy of my favorite movie so I could watch it when I was at school (I only had a VHS copy up until that point) and a ceramic turtle he had had forever to remind me of him (I still have the turtle actually). I went to bed and the next morning, my parents and I woke up at the crack of dawn to leave for my new adventure. It’s impossible to read Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between without remembering the very odd summer I had at home just before college. There wasn’t a ton of time between graduation and actually packing up for school, but in those three months I managed to work a lot at my part-time jobs at CVS and The Disney Store, get a new boyfriend, and fill up our family van with all the crap I needed for school. I went to the beach with my best friend, had swim parties with my high school pals, and attended (what felt like) a million graduation parties.

I was sad and I was nervous about leaving but I also felt ready. My parents and I needed some space and after going to school in the same town for my whole life, I was ready to go somewhere where no one knew me even if this meant leaving my new boyfriend behind. Unlike Claire and Aiden, we didn’t have two years under our belt and reading Jen Smith’s new novel made me realize we had never discussed even breaking up our relationship. There was so much drama tangled up in us getting together in the first place, and ending everything before it even really started was never an option. Long distance was just going to be a thing we did. So as much as Hello, Goodbye is the perfect read for teenagers in that shaky place right now — when you have no idea what decision is right or wrong and have to make one anyway — I felt just as affected as an adult, 10 years since my freshman year, who has already experienced an endgame to many of Claire’s concerns. I understood Claire’s back and forth about whether or not to stay with Aiden once they went away to different schools, and her legit fear of being so distracted with the past she wouldn’t embrace her present. How the summer she envisioned hanging out with her best friends until they were physically unable to any longer didn’t quite happen that way.

Confession: I was totally that girl Claire didn’t want to be. I’d like to think that if my then-boyfriend would have decided to let go of his old girlfriend maybe I would have been less of an anxious, insane freshman who was more wrapped up with the ex-girlfriend’s suspicious away messages and the glaring fact that this guy and I were not solid enough to deal with a presence such as hers. In the middle of all that, a guy I graduated with and worked with died the second month I was at school. I didn’t even realize until years later how withdrawn I was during that first year. Two of the girls in my suite are still close friends, and now we can certainly look back and laugh about that crazy first year but whoa, they were concerned. I was 100 miles away from home, stranded without a car with a boyfriend who barely had a cell phone, and a wild imagination. (You would have been too; this ex was terrifying.)

All Claire wanted to do was save herself some grief by ending things with Aiden. She didn’t want to wonder about what he was doing or who he was meeting. She didn’t want to stop herself from meeting and doing too. Strangely, I felt proud of her. Because an itty bitty part of me wonders what would have happened if I had explored ALL the options instead of going with the one I wanted the most. Would I have spent less time on the internet? Smiled and socialized more? Spent less time looking up schools to transfer to in the middle of the school year?

Maybe. That’s the thing. As much as we plan and hope, life has the tendency to have a mind of its own. So while I was impressed with Claire’s focus to reach a cut and dry solution to the future of her and Aiden’s relationship, I also wanted to shake her and just tell her to enjoy that last night because if that evening was any indication, there were plenty of surprises in store for her on this new adventure and sometimes you just have to let them happen.


 Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by  Jennifer E. SmithHello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith captures the extreme doubt and excitement associated with new adventures and new beginnings in an agonizingly realistic and bittersweet way. After two years together, can Claire and Aiden continue their relationship when so many factors are left unknown as they leave for college? Will their friendships with best friends Stella and Scotty survive distance? In a rare look at the night before their time at home and in high school ends for good, Smith delivers an emotional ride peppered with quirky twists and turns and questions of independence and dependability. Plus a lot of tears from this reader. It’ll make you reflect, wonder, and look around and realize: sometimes you just have to move with change and have a little faith.

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This Love Bug | Romance Short List

Did you know August was Romance Awareness Month? Me neither. (Just made it!) I found out when I was doing some research for work, but hey, it is and here we are. Three romance recommendations that eased me back into work after vacation, accompanied me on a beer crawl, and kept me company on a “me night” (along with this beer). I always will equate romance novels with relaxation and a whole lot of fun. Thanks to these for providing that! Hope you find something to add to your list today.

Fighting for Keeps by Jennifer SnowFighting for Keeps by Jennifer Snow (Harlequin Heartwarming/ April 25, 2015): My first romance novel about a fighter, and I really liked it. Noah might fight for a living but he’s also focused on making sure young kids in his neighborhood have every opportunity to get a great education and support they might be missing. In the same town is Lindsay, a woman he’s been after forever. No amount of training has prepared him for her cold shoulder but when tragedy strikes and her life changes a ton, Noah is there for her. A sweet story about a woman who must finally realize she’s worth it and capable of everything, and a man who learns it’s okay to let his defenses down with the right person.

Add FIGHTING FOR KEEPS to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N

Thrill Me by Susan MalleryThrill Me by Susan Mallery (Harlequin HQN/July 28, 2015) I’ve read my fair share of Susan Mallery books, and I can say, hands down, this one is at the top of my list. Second chance love? Give me more of this. Maya is unexpectedly reunited with the only man she’s ever been in love with for a work project. Her and Del never exactly broke up either; she ran away from him and never looked back. On the surface, both seem at ease working on a marketing campaign for Fool’s Gold but, in reality, Maya’s wondering if she should bring up the past and Del is starting to remember how great everything felt when she was around. Not only was this book about bringing two people together again, but Maya is struggling with that next step in her life. Does she want to work in Fool’s Gold forever or is there more for her out there? I was utterly delighted by these two, happy to be back in the generous and sweet town of Fool’s Gold, and gobbled this book in less than a day.

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One Wish by Robyn CarrA New Hope by Robyn Carr (Harlequin HQN/June 30, 2015): Every since I read ONE WISH, I was anxious to get to Ginger’s story. She’s a divorced young woman who lost her young child to SIDS and has now relocated to Thunder Point, working in an adorable flower shop. Robyn Carr overlaps Ginger’s story while continuing Grace’s from One Wish and I was glad for that. Grace’s story was far from over, and her friendship was so important to Ginger’s new lease on life. In this book, two people have to come to terms with their past and decide if they are ready to jump into a new adventure together. Matt makes a terrible first impression with Ginger but throughout A NEW HOPE, he certainly makes up for it. They grow to be close friends and take their next steps very slowly. I liked getting to know them a lot, enjoyed meeting a new character who will take centerstage in WILDEST DREAMS, and, once again, feeling charmed all over again by the Thunder Point citizens.

A nitpicky sidenote: I wish the ladies were featured on the covers of THUNDER POINT novels. I have no idea whose dog that is!

Add A NEW HOME to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N

Nothing beats a romance novel during a stressful week, let me tell ya. Thanks for reading, and be sure to share any recommendations below!

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Is it dark in here? | THE DEAD HOUSE MIRROR TOUR

It’s getting creepy on Rather Be Reading Blog today. I don’t know about you but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t necessarily like to be scared but doesn’t stop me at all from reading, watching, or obsessing over frightening things. (I’m a mystery even to myself.) This leads me to THE DEAD HOUSE by Dawn Kurtagitch which will be releasing on September 15 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. The plot sounds exactly like a news story I would be completely obsessed with in real life. Here it is:

Over two decades have passed since the fire at Elmbridge High, an inferno that took the lives of three teenagers. Not much was known about the events leading up to the tragedy – only that one student, Carly Johnson, vanished without a trace…

…until a diary is found hidden in the ruins.

But the diary, badly scorched, does not belong to Carly Johnson. It belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, a girl who shouldn’t exist Who was Kaitlyn? Why did she come out only at night? What is her connection to Carly?

The case has been reopened. Police records are being reexamined: psychiatric reports, video footage, text messages, e-mails. And the diary.

To get into the mood of the back and forth in this story, The Overflowing Library will be sharing a sneak peek of something from Carly’s POV and we’re sharing a bit from Kaitlyn’s. The theme is: Truth or Dare. Enjoy!

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

TRUTH or DARE

?

Dare.

Dare: I dare you to phone the last person you messaged and tell them you love them.

I can’t. They are gone forever. But if I were to phone them, I don’t know that I could tell them I loved them. There’s a lot I don’t remember. A lot I do, too. And that complicates things. My favorite movie growing up was The Crow. I remember the scene where Eric saves Darla from herself. He takes her arms, and squeezes them,  and all the heroine she had taken came draining out.

“Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children.

My mother was never that to me. But, for Carly’s sake, I’ll tell you this:

She tried. And that’s all anyone can do, I guess.

Want to know more about THE DEAD HOUSE?

Be sure to check out NOVL’s landing page & follow #TheDeadHouse.

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If You Only Knew (and you will — this Tuesday)

Kristan Higgins goes down as one of my top reading discoveries I’ve experienced through working on Rather Be Reading Blog. She’s a romance writer, yes, but it’s the the way she infuses family and comedy into her work that makes Kristan a standout to me. That being said, I was so excited she was trying something a little bit different with her next release, IF YOU ONLY KNEW (HQN Books/August 25). Think Emily Giffin, Jane Green, and maybe a little bit of Marisa de los Santos in this tale centered on sisterhood. Jenny is moving back to her small New York town to open a wedding dress boutique, and her sister, Rachel, is the attentive mom and wife but can’t figure out what to do when she finds sexy texts on her husband’s cell phone. Both are at a crossroads, and struggling with unexpected complications weighing them down. I loved how close these sisters were (yet they weren’t afraid to disagree), how grief affects everyone differently, and how it’s never too late to try something new. I’ll warn you though: clear your schedule for this one. You won’t want to anything to interrupt your time with IF YOU ONLY KNEW. It’s captivating, complicated, and oh-so good.

Today I’m so thrilled to share an excerpt from chapter 1 of IF YOU ONLY KNEW — which is out on shelves tomorrow!

If Only You Knew by Kristan Higgins

Jenny: Today is one of those days when I realize that staying friends with my ex- husband was a huge mistake.

I’m at the baby shower for Ana-Sofia, Owen’s wife and my replacement. Indeed, I’m sitting next to her, a place of honor in this circle of beaming well- wishers, and I’m probably beaming just as hard as everyone else. Harder, even, my Gosh, isn’t it wonderful, she’s so radiant smile that I give at work quite often, especially as my brides get bitchier or their mothers get more critical or their maids of honor get more jealous. But this smile, the baby shower smile…this is superhuman, really.

I know that coming today is incredibly pathetic, don’t worry. It’s just that I didn’t want to seem bitter by not showing up (though I’m pretty sure I am bitter, at least a little). After all, I’m the one who always wanted kids. Every time I brought it up, though, Owen said he wasn’t sure the time was right, and he loved our life the way it was.

Yeah. So. That turned out not to be quite true, but we did stay friends. Coming today, though…pathetic.

However, I woke up this morning utterly starving, and I knew the food would be amazing at the shower. Ana-Sofia inspires people. Plus, I’m moving out of the city, so for the past three weeks, I’ve been trying to eat or give away every morsel of food in my apartment. Let’s also mention that I couldn’t figure out an excuse that people would buy. Better to be an oddity here than Poor Jenny at home, scrounging through a box of Wheat-Thins of indeterminate age.

Ana-Sofia opens my gift, which is wrapped in Christmas paper, despite it being April. Liza, my host, glowers; the red and green cocoa-swilling Santas are an affront to the party vibe, which Liza noted on the invitations. In an effort to create a beautiful and harmonious environment for Ana-Sofia, please adhere to the apricot and sage color scheme in your clothing and gift-wrapping choices. Only in Manhattan, folks. I’m wearing a purple dress as a middle finger to Liza, who used to be my friend but now posts daily on FB that she’s LOL-ing with her BFF, Ana-Sofia.

“Oh! This is so lovely! Thank you, Jenny! Everyone, look at this! It’s beautiful!” Ana-Sofia holds up my gift, and there are gasps and murmurs and exclamations and a few glares that I have the best present here. I cock an eyebrow at the haters. Suck  it up, bitches. My gift was actually dashed off last night, as I kind of forgot to buy a present, but they don’t have to know that.

It’s a white satin baby blanket with leaves and trees and birds stitched into it. Hey. It only took me two hours. Nothing was hand-stitched. It wasn’t that big a deal.

I sew for a living. A wedding dress designer. The irony is not lost on me, don’t worry. “Couldn’t you have just bought a stuffed animal like a normal person?”

murmurs the person on my left. Andreas (born Andrew), my assistant, and the only man here. Gay, of course—do straight men work in designer bridal wear? Also, he hates and fears children, which makes him the perfect date for me under the circumstances. I needed an ally.

Have I mentioned that the shower is held in the apartment I once shared with Owen? Where, so far as I could tell, he and I were extremely happy? Yes. Liza is hosting, but the power went out in her apartment, thanks to the ham-fisted construction crew installing her new glass countertops (granite being so very last decade), and so we’re here instead. Liza is sweaty and loud, rightfully worried about being judged on her prowess as hostess. This is the Upper East Side, after all. We’re all about judgment here.

The gifts (including mine) border on the ridiculous. The shower invitation (engraved from Crane’s) asked, at the behest of the parents, for donations to the clean-well-water charity Ana-Sofia founded—Gushing.Org, the name of which brings to mind a particularly bad menstrual period, but which raises funds for wells in Africa. Yeah. Therefore, everyone donated fat checks and tried to outdo themselves with gifts. There’s a Calder mobile. A 1918 edition of Mother Goose stories. A mohair Steiff teddy bear that costs about as much as the rent on my soon-to-be former apartment in the Village.

My gaze drifts across the now-tastefully furnished apartment. When I lived here, it was cozier and Bo-Ho—fat, comfortable furniture, dozens of pictures of my three nieces, the occasional wall hanging from Target, that bastion of color and joy for the middle class. Now, the décor is incredibly tasteful, with African masks on the wall to remind us what Ana-Sofia does, and original paintings from around the globe. The walls are painted those boring, neutral colors with sexy names—October Fog, Birmingham Cream, Icicle.

There’s their wedding photo. They eloped, so thank God I didn’t have to go to that (or, God forbid, make her gown, which I would’ve done if asked, because I’m still pretty pitiful where Owen is concerned and can’t figure out how to divorce him out of my heart). Though the photo was taken by the justice of the peace in Maine, it’s perfect. Both bride and groom are laughing, slightly turned away from the camera, Ana’s hair blowing in the sea breeze. The New York Times featured the photo in the Sunday Vows section.

They really are the perfect couple. Once, it was Owen and me, and while I didn’t expect perfection, I thought we were pretty great. We never fought. My mom felt that since Owen is half Japanese, he was a better bet than “those simpletons” I dated (all of whom I hoped to marry at one point or another, starting with Nico Stephanopolous in eighth grade). “The Japanese don’t believe in divorce,” Mom said the first time I introduced her. “Right, Owen?”

He agreed, and I can still see his omnipresent, sweet smile, the Dr. Perfect Smile, as I called it. It’s his resting expression. Very reassuring to his patients, I’m sure. Owen is a plastic surgeon, the kind who fixes cleft palates and birthmarks and changes the lives of his patients. Ana-Sofia, who is from Peru and speaks five languages, met Owen eleven weeks after our divorce when he was doing his annual stint with Doctors Without Borders in the Sudan and she was digging wells.

And I make wedding dresses, as I believe I’ve already said. Listen. It’s not as shallow as it sounds. I make women look like they dreamed they would on one of the happiest days of their lives. I make them cry at their own reflections, I give them the dress they’ve spent years thinking about, the dress they’ll be wearing when they pledge their hearts, the dress they’ll pass onto their own daughters someday, the dress that signifies all their hopes and dreams for a happy, sparkling future.

But compared with what Owen and his second wife do, yeah, it’s incredibly shallow.

In theory, I should hate them both. No, he didn’t cheat with her. He’s far too decent for that.

He loves her, though. Ostensibly, I could hate him for loving her and not me. Make no mistake. I was heartbroken. But I can’t hate Owen, or Ana-Sofia. They’re too damn nice, which is incredibly inconsiderate of them.

And being Owen’s friend is better than being without Owen entirely.

The quilt has made the rounds of admiration and is passed back to Ana. She strokes it tenderly, then looks at me with tears in her eyes. “I don’t have the words to tell you how much this means.”

Oh, shut up, I want to say. I forgot to buy you a gift and dashed this off last night with some leftover Duchess satin. It’s no big deal.

“Hey, no worries,” I say. I’m often glib and stupid around Ana-Sofia. Andreas hands me another cream puff. I may have to give him a raise.

“I’m so excited about your new shop,” Ana says. “Owen and I were talking about how talented you are just last night.”

Andreas gives me a significant look and rolls his eyes. He has no problem hating Ana-Sofia and Owen, which I appreciate. I smile and take another sip of my mimosa, which is made with blood oranges and really good champagne.

If I’m ever pregnant, though the chances of that are plummeting by the hour, I imagine I’ll have the unenviable “I sat on an air hose” look that my sister had when she was percolating the triplets. There was no glow. There was acne. Stretch marks that made her look as if she’d been mauled by a Bengal tiger. She gnashed on Tums and burped constantly, but in true Rachel fashion, my sister never complained.

Ana-Sofia glows. Her perfect olive skin is without a blemish or, indeed, a visible pore. Her boobs look fantastic, and though she is eight and a half months pregnant, her baby bump is modest and perfectly round. She has no cankles. Life is so unfair.

“We just found out that our daughter’s classmate is her half-brother,” says the taller woman in Lesbian Couple #1. One of them just became a partner in Owen’s practice, but I don’t remember her name. “Imagine if we hadn’t known that! She could’ve ended up dating her half-brother! Marrying him! The fertility clinic gave  out fourteen samples of that donor’s sperm. We’re filing a lawsuit.”

“It’s better than adopting,” says another woman. “My sister? She and her husband had to give back their son the fourth time he set fire to the living room.”

“That’s not so bad. My cousin adopted, and then the birth mother came out of rehab and the judge gave her custody of the baby. After two years, mind you.”

On the other side of the circle, there seems to be a heated debate over whose labor and delivery was most grueling. “I almost died,” one woman says proudly. “I looked at my husband and told him I loved him, and the next thing I knew, the crash cart was there…”

“I was in labor for three days,” another states. “I was like a wild animal, clawing at the sheets.”

“Emergency cesarean eight weeks early, no anesthesia,” someone else says proudly. “My daughter weighed two pounds. NICU, fifty-seven days.”

And we have a winner! The other mothers shoot her resentful looks. Talk turns to food allergies, vaccines, family beds and the sad dearth of gifted and talented programs for preschoolers.

“This is fun,” I murmur to Ana-Sofia.

“Oh, yes,” she says. Irony is not one of her skills. “I’m so glad you are here, Jenny. Thank you for giving up your afternoon! You must be very busy with the move.”

“You’re moving?” one of her extremely beautiful and well-educated friends asks. “Where?”

“Cambry-on-Hudson,” I answer. “I grew up there. My sister and her family are—“

“Oh, my God, you’re leaving Manhattan? Will you have to get a car? Are there any restaurants there? I couldn’t live without Zenyasa Yoga.”

“You still go to Zenyasa?” someone says. “I’ve moved on. It’s Bikram Hot for I saw Neil Patrick Harris there last week.”

“I don’t do yoga anymore,” a blond woman says, studying a raspberry. “I joined a trampoline studio over on Amsterdam. Sarah Jessica Parker told me about it.”

“What about brunch?” someone asks me, her brow wrinkling in concern. “What will you do for brunch if you leave the city?”

“I think brunch is illegal outside Manhattan,” I answer gravely. No one laughs. They may think I’m telling the truth.

Now granted, I love Manhattan. To paraphrase the song, if you make it here,  the rest of the world is a cake walk. And I have made it here. I’ve worked for the best—even Vera Wang, as a matter of fact. My work is sold at Kleinfeld’s and has supported me for fifteen years. I was named one of the Designers of the Year when I was at Parson’s. I’ve been to not one but two parties at Tim Gunn’s place. He greeted me by name (and yes, he’s as nice as he seems).

But while I love the city, its roar, its buildings and smells, its subways and skyline, in my heart of hearts, I want a yard. I want to see my nieces more often. I want the happily ever after that my sister nailed, that’s unfolding for my ex-husband and his too-nice wife.

I hope I’m running to something, not away. The truth is, work has felt a little flat lately.

Cambry-on-Hudson is a lovely little city about an hour north of Manhattan. It has several excellent restaurants (some even serve brunch, shockingly). The downtown has a movie theater, flowering trees, a park and a Williams-Sonoma. It’s hardly a third-world country, no matter what these women think. And the latest shop is Bliss. Custom-made wedding gowns. My baby, in lieu of the human kind.

My phone beeps softly with a text. It’s from Andreas, who has put in his ear buds in order to drown out the stories of blocked milk ducts and bleeding nipples. Check out the nose on the great-aunt. I hope the baby inherits that. I smile at him gratefully.

“Did you hear about the obstetrician who fathered fifty-nine babies?” someone asks.

“That was an episode on Law & Order.”

“Ripped from the headlines,” someone else murmurs. “Someone in my building was one of his patients.”

“Oh. Oh, dear,” Ana-Sofia says.

I turn to her. She looks a bit startled. “It’s probably not true,” I tell her. “No…I think…it appears my water has broken.”

There is a silence, followed by a collective roar.

I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that, despite there being a dozen women who’ve given birth all jockeying for position, my hand is the one Ana-Sofia clutches. “Oh, Jenny, it’s happening,” she says, and her beautiful brown eyes are wide and terrified, and then I’m easing her onto the floor and crouched between her still- slim thighs (she’s maintained her bikini wax, FYI). Off with the thong (really, it’s like she’s showing off), and holy Mother of God, I can see the head.

I fumble in my purse for the travel-size Purell (if you ride the subways on a daily basis, you carry Purell). Slap some on my hands. “Get some towels and quiet down!” I bark at the other shower guests. I’m kind of good in emergencies. Liza hands me a stack of towels (very soft and about to be ruined by whatever comes out of a woman during childbirth).

“Let me help,” Liza whines. Indeed, this would make a great Facebook post.

Just delivered my BFF’s baby, LOL! –with Ana-Sofia Marquez-Takahashi.

“I need to push,” Ana pants, and she does, once, twice, a third time, and a face appears (a baby! there’s a baby coming into my hands!). One more push, and I’m holding it, slimy and covered in white gunk and a little blood and incredibly beautiful.

Dark hair, huge eyes. A miracle.

I ease her out all the way and put her on Ana’s chest. “It’s a girl,” I say, covering the baby with a towel.

Then FDNY clomps in, and I entertain a quick and deeply satisfying fantasy—

The head firefighter is filled with admiration for my cleverness, checks me out and asks me to dinner in the cutest Brooklyn accent the world has ever heard. His biceps flex hypnotically, and at the end of the date, yes, he does pick me up to demonstrate just how easy it would be for him to save my life, and a few years later, we have three strong sons and twin daughters on the way. And a Dalmatian.

But no, their attention is quite taken with Ana-Sofia (as it should be, I guess, though it would be nice if just one of them checked me out). Someone cuts the cord, and Ana is weeping beautifully over her daughter, and Liza holds her phone to Ana’s ear so my ex-husband can sob his love and admiration for his wife, who just set the land-speed record for labor and delivery.

From down the hall, I can hear Andreas dry-heaving in the tastefully decorated powder room over the murmurs of admiration from the shower guests and the brawny firefighters as they tell Ana how amazing she is, how beautiful her daughter is.

Seems like I’m leaving the city in the very nick of time.

Add IF YOU ONLY KNEW on Goodreads | Buy on B&N | Buy on Amazon

Kristan Higgins on the web & her recent piece on defending the romance genre (so good!)

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I Saw the Sign | Pub Date

Pub Date Header

I’m not going to be the person to ask you what your sign is, but something about horoscopes really fascinates me. I’m sitting here reading about Aquarius (who said Pub Date wasn’t educational), and I’m wondering how people decide which advice to trust, which traits really fall under the umbrella of this horoscope. I read something today that said Aquarians were near geniuses and another that said we were always searching for the meaning of life. I don’t think I’m anything close to a near genius but I am an over thinker, I like to understand things. But the real holy shit moment was this:

To Aquarius, compassion is not an emotion, but a conclusion. You have ideals and you cherish them, because you know they lead to a better world for all. Therefore, Aquarius tends to be altruistic even at great personal costs. Others admire that, but to Aquarius it’s self-explanatory: We must be benevolent to our fellow human beings for the benefit of all of us. That makes sense.

Whoa.

Now that my mind is blown, I’ll share my beer. As the ‘water bearer’, I went for Heavy Seas Smooth Sail Summer Ale (the website rightfully calls it a ‘pool beer’). I’m hanging on to the last few weeks of summer, and this is the perfect accomplice. It’s light, comes in a can, and goes down so easy. (Unfortunately, you might have to put this on your wish list for next year because if your grocery store is anything like mine, it’s full of pumpkin beer already.)

I’m not sure if my book relates to the beer at all. In fact, I think it relates more to Aquarius and how we like to understand even the most difficult things in life. The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell about a high school student named Sora dealing with an ALS diagnosis. He can’t go back to school (he loves literature and dreams of being a professor) and he’s slowly losing his motor skills. Throughout the book (which is so quietly written), he’s trying to come to terms with death and what happens after. It’s a beautiful (though heartbreaking) book with a wonderful mom, surprising new friends (from the internet!), and lovely grandparents. I completely loved it. I hope you’ll check it out.

Smooth Sail Summer and The Last Leaves Falling

That’s it for me, and this #PubDate. Hope you have a great month, and some wonderful brews and books! xoxo

Pass it on: Brittany @ Book Addict’s Guide | Andi @ Andi ABCs | Maggie @ Just a Couple More

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A Moment with Michelle Levy & Not After Everything

You know an author did their job when you want to protect a character from all the evils of their world, right? Tyler in NOT AFTER EVERYTHING — a debut from Michelle Levy — is one of those characters who I connected with immediately — his voice was so vivid — and I so badly want to save from his grief and awful home life. His life is pretty bleak, friends. But there are bright spots — his loyal pup, an old friend, and an after school job that brings him all kinds of light. I was so engaged with Tyler’s story throughout and since I finished, he’s been on my mind. This is why I’m so happy to chat with Michelle about her writing, musicals, and more about Tyler. Enjoy!

Author Michelle LevyMichelle, thanks SO much for answering these questions for Rather Be Reading. I was hooked on Not After Everything from the very first page and I’m so excited to be talking to you about your debut novel today.

Thank you!

Suicide, abuse, etc. There are so many tough circumstances throughout Not After Everything. I wanted to kidnap Tyler and take him far, far away from his pain. What was more difficult to write about, and how did you cope whenever you had to step away from the story?

MichelleThe abuse scenes and the scenes where Tyler’s depression is getting the better of him were definitely the hardest scenes to write. I sort of become the character while I’m writing, like how a method actor becomes the character, so those scenes really got to me. But unlike a method actor, at the end of the day, I can shut it off. I allowed myself to feel all the things Tyler was feeling as I typed, but I was able let it go the second I stepped away from the computer. And then I tried to watch something fun just to make sure those feelings didn’t creep back in. I find that CW and MTV shows are most helpful with these things.

I love the makeshift family Tyler finds with Jordyn and her family. And the safe place of the photography studio. I adored his relationship with Jordyn’s stepdad most because all this kid desperately needed was someone to be nice to him and there it was. What was your favorite part about writing these supporting characters?

MichelleI love Henry and Dr. Dave the most! I knew Tyler needed a positive adult figure in his life or he was going to go down a very dark path. I always knew Dr. Dave would be this for Tyler, but I didn’t expect Henry. I also knew Jordyn and Tyler would have to work together, but, again, I never expected that Jordyn’s stepdad would be the boss. Henry was a very happy surprise for me. And those happy surprises are the best. It’s almost like the characters are writing the story and I’m just along for the ride.

More Than Anything by Michelle LevyI recently read Jessica Verdi’s What You Left Behind (which was a fantastic yet difficult book about Ryder, a senior in high school who is a young father) and reading them so closely together, I wished he and Tyler were friends. I think they could have really helped each other through the shitty times without hiding behind this “everything is going to be okay” facade. Are there any other characters from other books that you think would have made a good friend for Tyler?

MichelleOoh, great question! First things first . . . *adds What You Left Behind to TBR pile* Okay, now what was the question? Oh, right. I think Tyler could be friends with Ezra Faulkner from The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. They have quite a bit in common. And probably Adam from Gayle Forman’s Where She Went. I could see them hanging out.

From your website I noticed you are a musical theater fan (me too!!), which musical/song, songs, etc. do you think sum up Not After Everything?

Michelle: OMG I love this question!!! “No One is Alone” from Into the Woods!

I mean:

Sometimes people leave you,
Halfway through the wood.
Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.

Right?!

Without getting spoilery (although I wish we could), did you always know how you were going to end Tyler’s story?

MichelleAlways. I knew it absolutely had to end that way or it wouldn’t feel right.


Eee! Are you intrigued yet? Please read this one; I want to discuss it with someone pronto!

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